Helen Ryland

Helen Ryland

Department of Philosophy
Doctoral researcher

Contact details

ERI Building
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

PhD title: On the margins: Personhood and moral status in marginal cases of human rights.
Supervisor: Jussi Suikannen and Jeremy Williams
PhD Philosophy


Many theories of human rights claim that only agents who are persons have human rights. The so-called marginal cases are problematic for this view as they are cases where the agent’s moral personhood is in question. As traditional human rights theories use a binary notion of personhood, the typical response to this problem is to deny that marginal cases have personhood or human rights.

My thesis argues that this is the wrong response in the marginal cases. As such, I will be considering the following questions:

  • What constitutes a marginal case and why might the marginal cases be persons and have human rights?
  • Can a degrees of personhood view allow us to accommodate marginal cases in a way that binary accounts cannot? If so, how?
  • What effects would this have on the human rights of both marginal and non-marginal persons?